Review – Six By Six – Beyond Shadowland – by John Wenlock-Smith

Occasionally, and very rarely, I get an album that fails to captivate me fully. Whether this is my fault or a failing on behalf of the artist is very much open to debate. In this instance, I was anticipating and expecting far greater than what is on offer here, which is actually not that bad. However when your debut is stunning, as was the first self-titled SiX By SiX album, it is very disappointing when the follow up, ‘Beyond Shadowland’, falls a long way short of what had gone before, and is, to be blunt, definitely sub-standard quality wise in comparison.

To be fair, you do get more crunchy prog-rock crossover songs with some soaring guitar lines exciting riffs and excellent drumming. Yet, despite all this, it seems a little too safe and too pedestrian for these ears. I realise that coming up with another quality album as quickly as SiX By SiX have done is not an easy task. However, this sophomore album comes barely a year on from their debut album and I can’t help but think that they missed out in applying some crucial quality controls on this album, making it a step backwards for the band and not a progression in my view.

It has great cover art but its contents are relatively unrewarding thus giving us material that suffers highly in comparison to their excellent debut, which really captured the imagination first time around. There are some good tracks but there is way too much that lacks enough magic focus. This really saddens me for, as a trio, these are all seasoned, intelligent and articulate musicians who know their craft. However, here they seem to have forgotten that songs need more than a strong riff, they need some commitment and some thrust and drive, not just power for powers sake! Bluff and bluster is really not good enough from these veterans, rather more, they need a strong melody and a touch of polish, which several of these tracks seem to be missing.

I do like the longer track One Step that has time to actually go somewhere interesting and the tracks Arms of a Word and Can’t Live This do have their charms. Sadly, it’s not the case elsewhere on the album, no doubt I will still actually buy the album and really make my own mind up. However, at this moment in time I don’t find it a very appealing album unfortunately, which is a shame as, on paper, it is all there. You have the vibrant guitar work of Ian Crichton, the powerful drums of Nigel Glockner and the undeniable talent and production skills of bassist and vocalist Robert Berry. Here though, it simply fails to really ignite or to captivate in any significant manner. 

I hope this is a blip and doesn’t mean the end of what could be a very rewarding project. I really hope they regroup, refocus and return with the album that they really should have delivered rather than this mishmash of half realised ideas and incomplete songs. I really hope so guys but you fell far short here, you didn’t even reach the Shadowland, yet alone get beyond it…

Full track listing:

1.     Wren 

2.     The Arms of a Word  

3.     Can’t Live Like This  

4.     Obiliex

5.     Only You Can Decide  

6.     Titans 

7.     Outside Looking In  

8.     Spectre

9.     Sympathise  

10.  One Step

11.  The Mission

Released 26th April, 2024.

Order the album here:

Six By Six – The Mission (lnk.to)

Review – Colosseum: Elegy – The Recordings 1968-1971, 6CD Box Set – by John Wenlock-Smith

I received this splendid box set from Esoteric recently, containing the five albums released by the original version of Colosseum released in the early 1970’s. They were albums of great significance in the then emerging and developing area of progressive music, mixing, jazz, fusion, blues and rock in a distinctive amalgam of styles but never being less than interesting listening.

I myself came to Colosseum a lot later in my life, despite their albums being in abundance at my then favourite record shop in Birmingham where I lived at the time. Although I was a big fan of the latter, mid-1970’s incarnation of the band, called Colosseum 11, featuring Gary Moore on Guitar and Don Airey on keyboards, alongside Jon Hiseman on drums and the ever dependable Neil Murray on bass. This version was far heavier sound wise than the original Colosseum ever were and whilst I enjoyed the strange new album immensely, somehow I never went back to the original albums, my mistake of course. Call it the folly of youth but I was definitely blinkered in my sonic appreciation. In my teens I was a heavy metal man and dismissed lots of music that I have since come to appreciate more fully as I have aged, ironic really!

Colosseum came to my ear fully in the late 1990’s when I was buying music online from a well known website that has since ceased to be. I can’t even recall what it was called but it was very popular in the day and had great deals and offers. I spent a fortune on there over the years and, in the process, I acquired all the Colosseum remasters on the Sanctuary label, all of which are, in the main, included in this ‘Elegy’ box set; ‘Those Who Are About To Die Salute You’, ‘Valentyne Suite’, ‘The Grass Is Greener’, ‘Daughter Of Time’ and ‘Colosseum Live’, along with an additional twelve bonus tracks, a highly informative booklet of sleeve notes, recollections and photographs of the time.

There are differences, however, between the remasters I already possessed and this set, in that there a few omissions and a few hitherto unreleased cuts which makes for an interesting and rewarding listen. One thing I found interesting was that the name Colosseum was chosen by Jon Hiseman whilst sitting on Palatine Hill in Rome, overlooking the actual Colosseum with Barbara Thompson, who he later married of course. They were visiting her relatives in Italy at the time when Jon announced he was going to start a band and call it Colosseum, the rest, as they say, is history.

Jon was already friends with Dave Greenslade and Dick Heckstall-Smith, both of whom he knew from his schooldays and both of whom he had played with over the years. They found guitarist James Litherland and bass guitarist Tony Reeves from auditions in London and they were off. They hooked up with the Bron Agency and Gerry Bron who got them a deal with Phillips for the first album, ‘Those Who Are About To Die Salute You’. Released in 1969, this debut was very influential in progressive music circles as here were a group who were really pushing the boundaries and embracing varied influences into a distinctive melting pot, making vibrant and exciting music for the then modern world, it still sounds highly impressive now, over 55 years later.

However the best was yet to come, Colosseum were signed to new Phillips‘ label Vertigo, targeting the demand for progressive music. So it was that the band’s second album ‘Valentyne’ appeared as the first Vertigo Records release as Vertigo 001 in 1970. This introduced both the label and the band to a whole new audience, especially as the album fitted perfectly with the aspirations of the label and the music was highly suited, being an elaborate, almost conceptual, album of linked pieces, especially in the three part Valentyne Suite which occupied side two of the record. The album still sounds outstanding and ground-breaking today, that it was a young group, most of whom were barely in there early 20’s, yet who were creating some incredibly complex and extremely well conceived and competently delivered music, is all the more remarkable.

In the USA and Canada the album appeared in different form in 1970 as ‘The Grass is Greener’ remixed and featuring a series of songs unreleased in the UK.

‘Daughter Of Time’, released in 1970, brought a change of line up, in that both James  Litherland and Tony Reeves left. These were replaced by Dave ‘Clem’ Clempson and Louis Cennamo but Cennamo found Colosseum too heavy for his tastes and left. However, Clempson had seen Mark Clarke playing in Liverpool and felt he might be a good fit for the ban, so it was that Clarke joined the band. It was also felt that a vocalist would help the group and Dave Greenslade suggested Chris Farlowe.

The final discs of the set are the previously issued and expanded version of ‘Colosseum Live’, complete with a second disc of other live tracks from Manchester University and Brighton, recorded in 1971. These do repeat several songs, namely Rope Ladder To The Moon, Skellington and Stormy Monday Blues, but it’s great to hear them here. Also here are live versions of The Valentyne Suite tracks, which are always great to hear again.

So there you have it, a potted history of the original incarnation of Colosseum, who admittedly did reform in 1991 and then reappeared frequently in the next century. However, they were never quite able to reclaim the impact of the original, who were quite simply a band for the time of the late 60’s and early 70’s, as this excellent set captures in their full dazzling and powerfully impressive manner. Excellent packaging and superlative sleeve notes add to a most welcome release. It is highly recommended indeed, especially if you like any of the latter spin offs like Greenslade or ColosseumII. This set represents an extremely influential and significant chapter in the history of progressive rock.

Released – 29th March, 2024.

Order here:

Colosseum: Elegy – The Recordings 1968-1971, 6CD Box Set (cherryred.co.uk)

Review – Mayfire – Cloudscapes & Silhouettes – by Rob Fisher

Some albums have an uncanny ability to quickly etch themselves on your soul, delivering an adrenaline-fuelled rush of tingling elation which makes you truly glad to be alive. Alive is certainly how you will feel by the time you reach the end of Cloudscapes and Silhouettes, heart-rate elevated, blood coursing through your veins, wide-eyed with exhilaration, a surprised but passion-spent ‘bloody hell’ escaping from your lips as the final notes fade.

Mayfire have created a blistering debut album which throbs, pulses, confronts and caresses, teases and goads, yet through it all, holds you captivated, enthralled and transfixed. By the time it finishes, you will, even though pleasantly dazed and perhaps a smidge flustered, truly understand with an aching certainty the fullest, deepest and most encompassing meaning of ‘epic’.

Opening track The Fall (Track 1) sets the scene, a moody, brooding, unsettling prophetic lament giving us a glimpse of the expansive cinematic canvas to come. The atmospheric panorama makes you feel as if you are being confronted by a momentous quest, a chilling, portentous challenge:

Some say it was the overpopulation that started it all
Some say it’s just human nature.
The power. The Greed.
The never-ending reach for more.
It doesn’t matter much who was wrong or right
And the Earth was left broken
And it didn’t stop human nature
So if you ask me
The fall, it was just a matter of time

The foreboding crescendo which follows is a premonition of the journey that is to come. Silence descends. We wait with bated breath.

City of Ruins (Track 2) quickly sets the scene; a light, symphonic intro dissolves into a compelling musical full frontal, the guitar work oscillating between staccato, accentuated bursts which then flow into reverberating, extended chords; an insistent, demanding drum pulsates, driving the music forward. Above it all the vocal prowess of MJX is towering, glorious, peerless, lighting the way, leading us on, a light in the darkness.

Shadows (Track 3) confirms initial impressions. An impressive opening gambit, growling with unsettling menace eases into a beautiful oasis of melodic calm. But the power of the voice returns to pierce the illusion; a voice laden with anger, despair, lament calls across growling guitar foundations into the emptiness:

Trying to understand, Never to be the same.
Now that I have seen it, it all makes sense.
Saying you’re sorry won’t suffice this time,
Giving you another chance or never to be seen again
.   

Time signatures change and shift to match the mood and the pace of song; instrumental combinations weave, combine, dissipate, forming new combinations, driving the momentum forward. The magic of this album is precisely the ever-shifting textures in the soundscapes. Within the context of a song, you never hear the same thing twice. Mayfire are forging their own path, their own sound, in order to express emotional depth through the interplay of complex rhythms, sophisticated melodies, intricate changes of tempo and shuddering transitions.

The title track brings even greater contrasts. A discordant, jarring opening outburst gives way to the exquisitely nuanced and delicate melody. But it can’t last: the beauty is broken, disrupted back to discordant noise. But wait; beauty returns. That voice. Pleads. Begs. Dreams. Hopes. “Stay strong, carry on”. Vulnerability is writ large. But it can’t last, can’t withstand the onslaught which inevitably arrives. This time a soaring guitar solo replaces the voice amidst the mayhem, briefly taming the darkness.

Thicker Than Water (Track 5) is a welcome respite. Aiden’s bass carries the load and propels a reflective urge to reach tender depths as memories are recalled and the serenity of nostalgia calms the storm. For a while. Past and present conflict; the reverie breaks. Guitars leak into the musical canvas like water running down wallpaper heralding a coming flood.

A Sense of Purpose (Track 6) is a thundering, relentless assault, climactic vocals falling apart into guttural growls and screams. The melody reaches out to restore order but is quickly overwhelmed with the roar of brutal passion and raw emotion. Contrast this with Vinternatt (Track 7), a total shift of tone, mood and atmosphere. The growl remains present, but constrained, melody given an echoing, transparent musical backdrop. Like a scene change at a theatre, it’s replaced with dense, intense, busy-ness, only to shift again, and again until we reach the most glorious passage of almost shamanic chanting, unexpected and immersive in the way it mesmerises and stops you dead in your tracks.

Fearless (Track 8) brings us toward resolution. The melody is stronger, centre stage, not knocked off by competing instrumental contrasts. The song structure is almost ‘traditional’, paired back and simplified, allowing a lighter, brighter air. Closing track The Age of Kings (Track 9) brings us full circle to the feel of Track 1. Except, too much has happened, we have travelled so far, so long, so hard. It may be a return to where we started but it now feels very different. “Don’t let this moment ever be the end! / Been staring at these lights in the distance / Feeling kind of safe here / Alone.”

I found my way to prog via heavy metal and heavy rock. I retain a deep fondness for and strong affinity with both genres. In the burgeoning arena of progressive metal where so much mediocrity has unfortunately blunted its edge, what Mayfire have achieved with Cloudscapes and Silhouettes is, to my mind, remarkable. The vision of the album is both magnificent in its scope as well as monumental in its reach. Impressively ambitious. The innovative use of evolving layering to build creative shifting textures and create rich, resonant soundscapes is nothing short of triumphant. And in case I’ve not mentioned it before: that voice. Bloody hell. It gives you the world and everything in it.

Released November 17th, 2023.

Order from bandcamp here:

Cloudscapes & Silhouettes | Mayfire (bandcamp.com)

TRACK LISTING
1. The Fall 02:24
2. City Of Ruins 04:31
3. Shadows 06:33
4. Cloudscapes & Silhouettes 05:52
5. Thicker Than Water 03:51
6. A Sense Of Purpose 03:44
7. Vinternatt 05:35
8. Fearless 06:06
9. The Age Of Kings 05:24

MUSICIANS
Aiden – Bass
Eros – Drum
Locke – Guitar
MJX – Vocals
REX – Guitar

Haken guitarist Richard Henshall announces solo EP; releases first single/video 

Mu Vol. 1 EP set for release 7th June

First single/video ‘Mu’ streaming now

Progressive multi-instumentalist and celebrated guitarist Richard Henshall has announced the release of his new EP – the first in an a trilogy – Mu Vol. 1, on 7th June,. He has also unveiled the first single ‘Mu’, along with a multi-cam play-through video.

Watch the video here:

Preorder Mu Vol. 1 EP here:

Mu by Richard Henshall – DistroKid

During 2020 Henshall started work on his Mu collection, a trilogy of EPs that explore his love for jazz-infused, intricate instrumental music. The EPs will be released throughout 2024 and promise to be some of his most richly textured, adventurous music to date. Richard is joined by drummer Lang Zhao and saxophonist Adam Carillio, while he handles guitar, bass & keyboard duties.

On the Mu EP and launch single ‘Yang’ he comments: “I got the initial rhythmic idea for Mu on a flight home from a Haken tour just before the lockdown kicked off in the UK. Little did I know that it’d end up being the catalyst for a trilogy of jazz-tinged, instrumental EPs. The rhythmic powerhouse, Lang Zhao, is on the drums and his highly creative playing style has really elevated these arrangements to new levels. This new collection of songs has a strong focus on rhythm and explores some new ground for me as a writer and guitar player. I can’t to share what I’ve cooked up with everyone.”

Richard Henshall is a composer, guitarist and keyboardist hailing from London, England. He is acclaimed for his work as founding member of progressive metal juggernaut Haken, as well as his endeavours as a solo artist. Henshall has been named as Music Radar’s no. 11 ‘best prog guitarist’ and in Guitar World’s ‘top 15 best prog rock guitarist’. 

In 2014, Henshall joined forces with Between the Buried and Me’s Dan Briggs and formed Nova Collective. Together they wrote the critically acclaimed ‘The Further Side’, which draws influences from the likes of Chick Corea and Mahavishnu Orchestra. In 2017, Henshall, alongside his Haken bandmates, featured in Mike Portnoy’s Shattered Fortress performing the songs of Dream Theater for a year of very special shows around the world.

In 2019, Henshall completed work on his ambitious debut solo album, entitled The Cocoon, which features Jordan Rudess as well as host of other guests. The music ranges from dense polyrhythmic passages to delicate minimalistic interludes and features Henshall’s trademark guitar and keyboard playing throughout along with his debut performance as a lead vocalist. Prog Radar described it as “a truly impressive release and one that shows Richard at the height of his creative powers.” 

Lesoir announces new album Push Back The Horizon – Released 20th September 2024 (V2 Records)

Lesoir, a five-piece band hailing from Maastricht, Netherlands, and formed in 2009, has quietly cultivated a global fan base and are now ready to step out of the shadows again for their 6th album ‘Push Back The Horizon’ to be released on September 20th 2024.

‘Push Back The Horizon’ includes 10 songs, composed by the bands guitarist Ingo Dassen, and lyrics and vocal lines written by singer and multi-instrumentalist Maartje Meessen. 

The album is produced by John Cornfield, known for his work with Muse, Kashmir, Razorlight, Supergrass, Robert Plant, New Model Army & Ben Howard, among others. In addition, dedicated collaborated for the vocals with Paul Reeve, Matt Bellamy’s (Muse) vocal producer. The instrumentation was recorded at the Muziekgieterij, Maastricht. The vocals were recorded in Cornwall, UK. Mastering is done by Steve Kitch, keyboardist of The Pineapple Thief. String compositions and arrangements by Ingo Dassen, James Merryweather and Maartje Meessen. The album will be released on CD, LP (black), 2LP (Bloody Mary coloured with ‘Babel’ as bonus track) and digitally.

‘Push Back The Horizon’ is preceded by the title track (already released) and new single ‘As Long As Your Girls Smile’ (out today) and delves into the intricacies of human existence, exploring relationships and life’s complexities. A sometimes limited control over circumstances adds nuance to the human experience, revealing a collective tipping point. The album offers a snapshot of relatable stories, emphasizing life’s potential for both thoughtful moments and unexpected events that provide glimmers of hope. Centered on family and brotherhood, it transcends geographical boundaries, highlighting the power of collective action. Instead of dwelling on the past, the album encourages a forward-looking perspective, urging a collective effort to try again for a better outcome.

Listen to the new single here:

Lesoir – As Long As Your Girls Smile (orcd.co)

Or watch the video here:

Lesoir has always had a professional DIY mentality, for the last 4 years Lesoir built a team around them with Glassville Music as their management and bookings agent worldwide. This gives the band the opportunity to focus on their marketing and performance. The band has been completely self-supporting on social media, partly produces its own videos, has a permanent in-house crew, its own mixing desk, IEM, microphone, backline, transport and is equipped to play a show anywhere. For years, the band has been proactive in getting the story of & behind the band across the stage online and offline.

In 2019, the band toured for 5 weeks with prog legends Riverside. After the tour, the band made a real splash within the scene and the subsequent self-released album, with the help of Glassville Records, called ‘Mosaic’ was met with high praise and landed on several annual charts.

The band had about 20 headline shows lined up when the pandemic broke out. When touring was temporarily no longer an option, the band used its time to release the 20-minute-and-20-second epic ‘Babel’ on a ltd handmade etched vinyl. The 250 pieces were independently released and sold out within four weeks.

‘Push Back The Horizon’ is poised for a global release by V2 Records, renowned for their collaborations with Skunk Anansie, Mumford And Sons, Moby, Kaiser Chiefs and Ane Brun.

Pre-order the album here:

LESOIR | Instagram, Facebook, TikTok | Linktree

IVE:

06.04.24 Artrock Festival Reichenbach (D)

09.05.24 Urpop Urmond (NL)

30.05.24 The Waiting Room London (UK)

31.05.24 The Great Estate Festival Redruth (UK)

30.06.24 Openluchttheater Valkenburg (NL)

18.08.24 Crescendo Festival Saint-Palais-Sur-Mer (F)

The Oculist Release New Track, ‘Terminal’, and Video From Acclaimed Debut Album ‘Cautionary Tales’

After releasing the album ‘Cautionary Tales’ at the beginning of the year, The Oculist present their latest offering with a video for their song Terminal. This song explores the sinister tale of Robert Berdella and presents the bands stylistic versatility, featuring stellar musicianship, effortlessly weaving between prog and death metal styles with aplomb.

Watch the video here:

The Oculist is Adam Dunn and Çağrı Tozluoğlu. Track features the extraordinary talents of Simon Fitzpatrick on the bass and James Wise on drums. Terminal mixed at TimbreWorks London and mastered by legendary Jens Bogren at Fascination Street Studios Sweden. 

Order ‘Cautionary Tales’ from bandcamp here:

Cautionary Tales | The Oculist (bandcamp.com)

Review – The Raging Project – Future Days – by John Wenlock-Smith

This is a very strange album for me, mixing as it does elements of almost rap, progressive metal and ambient textures. ‘Future Days’ is the brainchild of French musician Ivan Jacquin who, along with Lionel Fevre, was in an electro metal act which developed into Project Rage in 2007. Joined by Jeannick Valleur, they released an EP in 2009 but their attempts to become a fully fledged band faltered and, eventually, Ivan worked on a different project called Foreign Rock Opera. Now, joined by a dozen talented and prestigious artists, Ivan decided to revisit some old, lost tracks and revive them afresh.

The result is The Raging Project and this collection of themed/linked songs and soundscapes. It is not always an easy listen as the concept is a little vague and obscure at times, what is without question is the quality of the material that is very well constructed and contains some stellar performances from all the musicians involved.

The album features the wonderful Amanda Lehman (Steve Hackett Band) on guitar and vocals on a couple of track where she gets to really let fly. I was especially impressed with Even if I Bleed and the french version of the same song, M​ê​me si je saigne but also highly noteworthy is a dance track I Wanna Dance, which does actually work within the album bringing some light relief to the more seriously themed tracks. Ambient also impresses with some solid guitar links and an interesting wall of sound making a strong impression. In fact, the more I became attuned to this album, the more my appreciation for it grew. The vocals are especially pleasing on this track, soaring over some fine guitar lines, it is all really strong and impressive stuff.

For me, at least, the piece de la resistance here is the epic track On Earth which features Derek Sherinian on keyboards and theremin. It is nearly ten and a half minutes of wonderfully evocative sounds and features a stunning performance from Derek commencing with growling synthetic and spacey synthetic lines to create an emotive soundscape over which there is a spoken word narration, The theremin offers a suitably mysterious sound on this song about climate change that is most impressive sounding. It really is a great track with the keyboards adding significantly to the overall effectiveness of the song as it continues to express its regret for how we have treated the earth. I will admit to being a tad biased here as I do especially appreciate the keyboards of Derek Sherinian as a member of the various projects that he has been a part of. His presence here is a delight for me and it’s a well delivered cameo appearance from the current keyboard player of note. That said, the supporting musicians all play equally as solidly and their performances are equally as strong.

Procession is another strong track. Sung in French, it is a brooding and moody piece with superb drums from Henri-Pierre Prudent and an excellent guitar track and solo from Amanda Lehmann that evokes echoes of David Gilmour in its tone and style. It is all most impressive really, I do like this track, one of the albums strongest in my opinion, it  is wonderfully fluid in sound. Wraith continues in a more muscular and metal style and adds a distinctive crunch to proceedings. gain strong vocals mix well with the powerful guitars and synths to make something memorable and strong

Final track M​ê​me si je saigne features Amanda’s epic guitar work again where she is able cut loose and shred a little. Apparently, it was a challenge that she welcomed and rose to in style. This is a lengthy track, rather intense but excellent nonetheless, there is some excellent fluid guitar on this track and Mr Hackett would be proud of her playing here as she really gets stuck into the groove.

So there you have it, a decidedly different album of moods and styles that may not always work but in the main it does. There is more than enough strong music here to at least warrant a listen so why not listen and make your own mind up? As for me, I certainly enjoyed it and feel that I will return to it, I’m just not sure how often.

Released February 6th, 2024.

Order from bandcamp here:

Future Days | THE RAGING PROJECT (bandcamp.com)

Review – Transatlantic – Morsefest 2022 The Absolute Whirlwind – by John Wenlock-Smith

When this first came into my orbit I’ll admit that I was reluctant to review it, partly because I reviewed the ‘Final Flight’ set last year and I wondered what could be different this time and did we really need another outing for albums that have pretty much been done to death with multiple releases and versions?

So what changed my mind then ?

I’ll tell you, it was the very heartfelt and emotional tribute to Paul Hanlon that opens the song Shine, a song written by Neil Morse about Paul in 2015. This touching tribute is a glorious celebration and tribute to a man who suffered terrible disability and yet faced life with bravery and dignity, always allowing his strong faith to sustain him. It is this facet that made him Shine in Neal’s eyes, hence the deeply moving song. On the live DVD they show a screenshot of Paul at Morsefest in earlier years, and a well observed tribute it is too. I’d been with Paul at a transatlantic show for the ‘Kaleidoscope’ tour where Neal had come offstage to embrace Paul in a spontaneous moment of brotherhood leaving barely a dry eye in the crowd, so this tribute is sincere and gracious and very heartfelt and emotional.

Another thing that caught my attention was the sole live performance of In Held (‘Twas) In I, originally by Procul Harum in 1967, which is a faithful and strong take on the song. In fact, it has made me revisit the original Procul Harum version afresh to enjoy and compare to the Transatlantic take, which is an authentic and solid version. There is also a looser version of We All Need Some Light that most definitely impresses greatly.

So, in the opening four tracks you are already fifty-five minuets plus before you even get to the main event, which is night one of the 2 day Morsefest, a run through of the full ‘Whirlwind’ album in all its glory, an album I own but have never really got to grips with in any significant way. Well, I have to say that here it is a revelation, maybe the passage of time has imbued the album with more gravitas or maybe I am more open to its charms now but, I have to acknowledge that Transatlantic have definitely given this old album a fresh new sparkle. The addition of strings and a choir adding hugely to the beauty and dignity of this album.

I Really enjoyed this rendering of this album. Yes, it’s long, possibly overlong, and definitely overblown and pompous but, hey, the prog world welcomes excess and pomposity with open arms and few deliver that better than this particular troupe. So, revel in its glory, and the recurring melody of ‘The Whirlwind’.

Now hopefully you are already acquainted with the ‘Whirlwind’ album that I barely need to say much about it, except for the fact that they deliver a polished recital of the album, taking in its highs and themes with a splendid sound and vitality that enlivens the material handsomely. Especially noteworthy is Is It Really Happening which has significant snap, crackle and pop, as does the end track Dancing With Eternal Glory / Whirlwind which concludes day one of the festival.

It is actually the latter part of the album that worries me, In that, whilst everything is certainly up to the usual Transatlantic standard, the question really is simply: why? Do we really need a further version of an album that has seen at least three different versions and a live “Final” edition? Why would anyone, except completists, want yet another, albeit well delivered, version of an album that was somewhat inconsistent and overblown/overlong already?

Yes, it may be nice to have but, for me, this feels like milking your audience and, despite the sweeteners of a hitherto unrealised live version of a deep cut from their earliest days and a new final encore that encompasses the ‘Bridge Across Forever’ album this, for me is a step too far and somewhat unnecessary even. Okay, I know Morsefest is a somewhat special gathering to Neal and his followers, but this in itself doesn’t really warrant such a colossal box set of 6 CD’s and 2 DVD’s or maybe it does and I’m wrong?

For me I think it isn’t really a valid reason for such excess, nice to have for fans and completists but, for the rest of us, not really needed and superfluous to requirements, you’ll have to decide for yourself here…

Released 26th April, 2024.

Order here:

Transatlantic – Lay Down Your Life (Live at Morsefest 2022) (lnk.to)

Review – Amarok – Hope

Polish progressive rock outfit Amarok were founded in 1999 by Michał Wojtas, taking on various forms over the course of the next twenty-five years. Their early works had strong influences from the likes of Mike Oldfield (the name of the band was taken from the title of one of his albums) and Pink Floyd. Later, the sound began to evolve with a more ambient nature, along with elements of folk – and it was then that the original, unique character of the band began to take shape. For many years the band’s core was Michał along with Marta Wojtas but, since 2020, it has been a four piece with Konrad Zieliński (drums) and Kornel Popławski (bass and violin). 2024 sees the release of the this, band’s seventh album, ‘Hope‘, after a three year hiatus. It contains ten ambitious, high-level compositions, developed over two decades and it will not disappoint fans, new or old!

I’ve been a big fan of this band for quite a few years now and this new album just cements Amarok as one of the seminal Polish progressive rock bands out there, up there with Riverside at the top of the pile in my opinion. Their musical style fluctuates throughout their discography and throughout this album but the core and the centrepiece that holds everything together is Michał’s stunning guitar playing. His amazing guitar bleeds emotion and sounds like it is almost talking to you, all the while surrounded by the dense, complex and primeval wall of of sound created by the epic rhythm section of Konrad and Kornel.

There is still more than a hint of Pink Floyd and Mike Oldfield to the band’s sound but they now have a sophisticated and mature sound that is unique to them, fans of the band will instantly recognise that this is an Amarok release from the first few notes of opening track Hope Is, an almost technical and industrial vibe coming from the bass and distorted guitars. Marta’s dominant spoken word piece demanding attention in a truly hypnotic way and the keyboards washing over you majestically. Michał’s compelling guitar solo is the icing on the cake, vibrant and awe inspiring. Stay Human takes a more wistful and nostalgic path, the music and vocals pared back and withdrawn in delivery. The delicately plucked guitar adding suitable pathos to the calm atmosphere before the track opens up into something much more dynamic and impulsive, an intelligently created piece of music that echoes in your mind long after it has gone. One of my favourite pieces on the album, Insomnia is Amarok at their very best, the guitar playing inspired by Gilmour at his height but the growing anxiety akin to insomnia itself. This is a sonic salve for the mind and for the soul, it makes you think while you also admire its sheer elegance and beauty, something that this superb band have become very adept at. The vocals are perfectly judged and, once again, a dazzling guitar solo crowns it perfectly. Trail takes us off into trance and electronica, and quite magnificently too! Imagine Mike Oldfield teaming up with Faithless and you wouldn’t be far wrong, the urgency instilled by the keyboards is palpable in nature and the guitars perfectly match the vocals, it’s just brilliant and time almost stands still as you revel in the music.

Welcome and Queen are the works of Konrad Zieliński and Kornel Popławski respectively. Let’s head back in time with the former as it moves into Depeche Mode territory and their ‘Violator’ album. Zieliński provides vocals on this leviathan of a track, a sound that is hewn from granite emanating from the speakers as it draws you in with its monumental distorted guitars and powerful drums. A totally different listening experience but one with its roots firmly in the Amarok universe. Queen is as leftfield as it gets for Amarok fans, trip-hop, shoe-gaze, call it what you like, it is low key and almost sinister in its delivery. It’s throbbing, animated groove leaves you feeling a little off-kilter and Popławski’s vocals are as direct as they get. How refreshing to see the band exploring new territory and just check out Kornel’s violin solos too, sinuous almost alive, they are deliciously dark and machiavellian. Perfect Run is a fast paced, electronic thrill ride of potent keyboards, aggressive drums and crunching guitars, an instrumental of epic proportions that holds nothing back and is another highlight of the album.

Wistful, moving and a simply gorgeous eclectic ballad, Don’t Surrender was written a few years ago and nearly didn’t make the album but I’m ever so glad it did. It tells the story of taking on every challenge regardless of the obstacles that stand in the way, using the metaphor of water that is at once gentle and elemental and it flows perfectly. The vocals are sublime and the music simply elegant with a spectacular, dazzling guitar solo, Amarok at their ethereal, lavish best. Simple Pleasures is possibly the most elemental track on the whole album, laid back, calm and collected, it still shines brightly as another fantastic piece of music. Thoughtful, dreamlike and, at times, nostalgic, it leaves you in a relaxed and contemplative mood, the stylish, uber-cool guitar a wonderful high point. Things come to a close with the simplistic brilliance of Dolina, the only Polish language track on the album. It is like listening to someone baring their soul and literally brought tears to my eyes, the raw emotion of the vocals and lack of any frills or glamour is perfect and is a wake-up call for dormant sensibilities.

An utterly stunning collection of songs that bears Amarok’s impressive hallmarks throughout, ‘Hope’ is one of those albums that hits you at a base level in a totally emotive way. It is music for the mind and the soul and in a world collapsing around our very feet, we all need some of that, don’t we?

Released 5th April, 2024.

Order mp3 from bandcamp here:

Hope | Amarok (bandcamp.com)

Order CD and Vinyl from IMM here:

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Review – Age of Distraction – A Game Of Whispers

Age of Distraction is a thrilling new collaboration which spans across the contemporary UK progressive rock circuit. In 2023, founder member and lead writer John Cook (ex-This Winter Machine, ex-This Other Eden) recruited rising-star Charlie Bramald (Ghost of the Machine, Shadows On Mercury) on vocals, gravity-defying bassist Mark Gatland (Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate, IT), and multi-instrumentalist plus producer-extraordinaire Dom Bennison (Last Motion Picture, ex-This Winter Machine) to occupy the drum stool and handle production duties.

Together, the band has created a debut album which explores the boundaries of melodic, accessible progressive rock and metal, evoking an atmosphere all of its own in the process.

This blend of contemporary progressive rock and melodic metal opens with the pensive instrumental The Uninvited which features the emotion laden piano and keys of Ruby Jones (The Exotic Ices Project) and a post apocalyptic sounding vocal overlay. It’s a powerful intro that ebbs and flows dynamically before segueing into Break My Bones that gives up a thunderous intro before Charlie’s eloquent vocal takes over. A prime example of the progressive metal/ contemporary rock sound that is all the rage now, it flows melodically but there is always a persistent edge to the song. Featuring a guitar solo from John Cook that is both emotive and stirring in equal amounts, it certainly stands out. Dom’s machine gun drums open the edgy Compromised, a track that seems to stride purposefully across your acoustic synapses like a musical invasion. I really like the feel of this song and Charlie’s stirring vocal adds real menace. More of a hard rock track that leans into the metal genre a touch, there’s real power and soul to this stylish piece of music and, once again, a rather impressive guitar solo adds the finishing touch. Protect Me begins with a slow burning, low down feel, suspenseful in tone and delivery. The vocal is delivered in a measured and earnest manner, adding to the heartfelt aura that this impressive song engenders. There is a primeval power at the core of the music as the echoing guitars leave their impression on you and just check out that ever so soulful solo! The Plea is a short, musical amuse bouche full of wistful guitars that bleed melancholy and leave a lump in your throat, it’s very clever songwriting and just adds to the story that the band are creating.

The dark, brooding wonder of Take Me Down once again features the elegant piano and keys of Ruby Jones and also the distinctive, dignified vocals of Philip Stuckey (Stuckfish) and is one of the best songs of this genre you are likely to hear this year. There’s an age old wonder to the feel of the song, a nostalgic desire evident in Richard’s voice, it is music that is epic in scope and delivered in a widescreen fashion and I’m really impressed with this track. Title track A Game Of Whispers goes hard and heavy again with a monolithic feel to the drums and guitar and Mark’s bass has an age old feel to its delivery. Charlie delivers another menacing vocal and we end up with a song that wouldn’t be out of place on a Judas Priest album. There’s a melodic power at the core of everything that this talented quartet deliver and vibrant, densely layered feel to the sound and it is no more evident than on this highly impressive piece of music. This amazing musical journey continues with the vivid and animated hard rock infused instrumental The Point Of No Return, staccato and imposing guitars combining with the immense drums to create a phenomenal wall of sound that consumes all that encounter it.

The oasis of calm that is Oceans slows the pulse and reduces the blood pleasure after the enjoyable sonic assault that preceded it. A plaintive, pensive feeling song that leaves your breath catching as you let its emotions wash over you. The stylish, wishful acoustic guitar a match for Charlie’s heartfelt vocals on what is one of the albums more contemplative moments. Another short pause on the journey, The Left Unsaid is two minutes of thought provoking music that leaves its mark on your mind as it passes through. For me, the highlight on this ever impressive piece of work is the breathtaking Sneak Attack. It’s classic progressive metal at heart but with a real contemporary edge to the delivery. Intellectual and impassioned at the same time, there’s real drama to the music and an almost theatrical delivery to Charlie’s vocal. There’s been a resurgence of keyboards in contemporary, melodic prog rock and the writing on this album just leaves room for plenty of atmosphere and plenty of keys! A stand out track on an album of imposing songs, the highlight is most definitely John’s stunning guitar solo towards the end that makes the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. The album finishes with the uplifting My Peace, a beautiful, soaring piece of music that brought a lump to my throat (and tears to my eyes but we will ignore that bit!) and just leaves a feeling of hope and expectation in your heart.

2024 has already been a bumper year for superb releases and Age of Distraction have just added another fine album to the mix. ‘A Game Of Whispers’ is a collection of mighty fine songs that define the contemporary progressive rock and melodic metal genre and is a dramatic and profound listen from beginning to end. My recommendation is you just go out and buy it!

Released 31st May, 2024.

Pre-order from the band’s website here:

Home – Age Of Distraction

Or bandcamp here:

Music | Age Of Distraction (bandcamp.com)